Film Revival: Kafr Qassem

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On October 1, 2017 at 6pm, Anthology Film Archive in NYC will host the first U.S. screening and revival of the internationally acclaimed film “Kafr Qassem”, a 1974 Franco-Belgo-Syrian co-production by Film Maker, Borhane Alaouié.

On an October afternoon in 1956 the Israeli military imposed a curfew on Arab villages with little prior notice. Arriving home after working in the fields, the villagers of Kafr Kassem were left unaware of the curfew or their violation of said curfew. The film reconstructs the events leading up to that oft-commemorated day, while sharing the everyday lives of the townspeople so stoically that the viewer is left on edge by the eeriness of the human attempt at normalcy under unusually challenging conditions.

The film premiered in 1974 at the Carthage Film Festival where it won top Award for Best Film, Tanit D’Oro, and was honored and nominated for the Golden Prize at the Moscow Film Festival of 1975. Despite its regional accolades and reach, the film was only briefly run, screened in only a few locations outside Syria and Lebanon and remained dormant almost immediately after its release because of the political crises brewing in the region at the time, leaving the film largely forgotten until now when a group of volunteers found the film and began the translation and subtitling to be able to bring it to the English speaking world.

Using Pontecorvo’s 1966 “The Battle of Algiers” as a visual and political framework to tell the story, the film skillfully refuses to force any conclusions upon its audience. For example, the General in charge of the military during the events is depicted with same seeming objectivity as Lieutenant-Colonel Mathieu in the “Battle of Algiers.”

The film was made in Pontecorvo’s hallmark style of newsreel and documentary, using fictional realism to tell the story. It begins with the testimony of the General, while the returing workers are introduced through the narrative of the spy as he meets with military officials. The narrative continues on its serpentine meandering as it leads us to the final fate of the characters.

Alaouié uses near scientific accuracy in his depiction of the events, relying on official transcripts and records to build the narrative.  The audience is also treated to glimpses of the daily life of the townspeople, their history, their humanity and their ability to manage normalcy and humor in this surreal context.

Acclaimed French film critic, Serge Daney, called filmmaker-director Borhane Alaouié a “topographer-filmmaker” for his seeming laissez faire approach to provoking thought in his audience.

Alaouié began his career in 1968 and explained that this film was a break from the sort of activism in his circles at the time– despite the subject matter– stating:

“friends asked me, ‘You do not think that with the money of this film it would be better to buy Kalashnikovs? ‘I said ‘Kalashnikovs we have, movies, no.’  So, I went on.”

The film stars prolific Syrian actors Salim Sabri, Abdallah Abbassi, Shafiq Manfaluti and Charlotte Rushdie.

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